Friday, August 17, 2007

A woman's place . . . .

The other day, there was an article in the Globe and Mail about the fact that female lawyers are killing themselves with stress. Women are literally hiding heart attacks from work because they don’t want to be perceived as weak. So, while we make up over half of the new lawyers in Canada, women are still leaving practice at over twice the rate that men are.

This is not news, though the extent still shocked me (actually hiding cancer and heart attacks . . . .). Throughout law school, we were aware of what it meant to be a woman n law. Women who were thinking of having children in the near future, or who already had children, had to decide how they were going to balance careers and family (men were thinking about these issues too, but not with the same urgency). I’ve held to the belief that, through the force of sheer numbers, we are eventually going to change the profession. If there is a need for lawyers (a debatable point, but we’ll let it stand for now), and more and more of them are women, the profession is going to eventually have to change to be a more woman-friendly environment. And, men are going to benefit from this as well – most men that I know would also like a challenging career, while at the same time having a life.

What surprised me, then, was not the content of the article, but the comments posted in the online discussion forum. I always make the mistake of reading the comments in Globe and Mail discussions, and I am always discouraged, so I shouldn’t have been surprised . . . but this was shocking. Ninety percent of the comments were full of venom – at lawyers, at women, and at female lawyers. People were actually saying things like “if you can’t handle the heat, get back in the kitchen,” and “these women have been whining for equality for years, but now they can’t hack it. Why should the system change just because they’re weak?”

This commentary was eye-opening to me. It shows (in case the McLeans “Lawyers are Rats” articles the other week hadn’t made it abundantly clear) how little regard the profession is held in by the public. That, I can deal with, for now. What I find most upsetting was the hatred directed towards female professionals – the delight in their downfall and disregard of their pain.

Something systemic is still very wrong. This reminded me of recent news stories about the shortage of women in China, since under the one-child policy, parents are aborting girls so their one child will be a son. It reminded me of the fact that there are fewer women in Canadian politics than there were in the 1990s. We’ve come a long way, baby, but we’re not there yet.

(PS – on a happier note – check out a new feminist law firm, being launched by some of my former classmates. Opting out of the established firm system is one way that young women are re-shaping the profession in their own image: ).

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